An interview by Gail O’Hara that appeared in CHICKFACTOR issue #11 (Spring 1998). I’m not sure of the exact date.
chickfactor: when did you write your first song? what was it called?
edith frost: I think that was around ’83, when I was nineteen. it was a song called "rom," about the comic character rom the spaceknight… I did a little demo using keyboard and vocals, and then my ex-pardner bill neubauer fixed up a real kewl arrangement of it, with electronic drums and synths. it’s still a good tune even now, though it’s in a completely different style from what I’ve been doing the past few years!
cf: how many instruments do you play?
edith: I guess guitar is the only one that I feel halfway comfortable playing on, and I even have a hard time with that… I’m really not an instrumentalist by nature. I’ve tried and tried on all kinds of different instruments but can’t really get the hang of any of ‘em. but I do fool around on them. I have a nice antique mandolin that I can’t really play, and an accordion too. I fool around on keyboards, I can fake it on bass or percussion instruments. took cello lessons when I was a kid, but haven’t touched one since, so I don’t know about that.
cf: what were you like at 14?
edith: 14 was 1978, so I was still in mexico with my mom and my sister. I was in eighth grade, I was just starting to smoke pot and carouse around with my friends. it was a real difficult time for me, mentally. I was in a big hurry to grow up; I just wanted to be 18 and out of my parents’ house(s). I was a little brooder, I was fantasizing about guys all the time though I had little success in actually attracting them, being that I was a complete tomboy. I was into gymnastics, roller-skating, and skateboarding, and I was taking classical guitar lessons for a little while there. I was thinking maybe I should get into writing poetry or short stories or something… I hadn’t really hit on the idea of writing a song at that point.
cf: where do you write?
edith: well, I can take little notes, anywhere I’m at, if I think of something, but mainly it’s when I’m at home, by myself, late at night.
cf: what is the best live show you’ve seen in 1997?
edith: oh god. don’t do this to me!! I’ve seen more great shows this year than probably all the years of my life!!! but I think if I had to name one show out of all those, the one that blew my mind the mostest, it would be the time I saw plush (liam hayes) at the empty bottle in august, when he opened for the japanese band ghost. he hadn’t done a show in like three years, and it was just an unspeakably beautiful set of music, very inspiring.
cf: do you have a day job? what is it?
edith: yeah, I work at a web-shop, it’s the chicago branch of a big corporate thing called USWeb. it’s a pretty small office, just 14 people. they’re all pretty cool, but I don’t get too involved in office life. I just go in there and do whatever editing or page-building they throw at me. I have a part-time job, actually I share my job with this guy adam; he works in the morning and I come in around 1:00 and stay till the evening. it’s a monday through friday thing unless I’m off doing a show somewhere else. they’re very cool about letting me get time off… I just put in for whatever hours I work, and I tell them when I’m going to be out of town, it’s all pretty copacetic. (after-the-fact note from eda: I no longer work there, thank god! that job turned weird.)
cf: what’s your favorite movie?
edith: logan’s run? switchblade sisters? I dunno.
cf: favorite tv show?
edith: beverly hillbillies.
cf: favorite snack food?
cf: favorite libation?
edith: any beer is fine.
cf: favorite book?
edith: off the top of my head I’m gonna say confederacy of dunces.
cf: have you met any of your heroes? do you think it’s a good idea to meet one’s heroes?
edith: you have to go through that at some point, it’s just a part of life, another lesson you have to learn. I have met a couple of heroes in my time, and usually it’s a real cool thing, like the time I got bill monroe’s autograph back in ’90 or so, and sometimes it’s a real disappointment… I can think of one big musical hero in particular who really broke my little fannish heart, and you know, I think it did me a world of good, in a way. it forced me to come full circle in my attitude towards heroes… I’m trying to appreciate these people for the work that they’ve done, trying not to let that be ruined by a less-than-satisfying personal encounter with them.
cf: does the liz phair comparison to your voice bug you? do you think you sound like her at all?
edith: speaking of heroes…!! haha… you know, I am a serious fan of liz phair. I have all her stuff, including some live tapes and a bunch of girlysounds demos, which I got a few years ago from somebody on the internet. so there is no way that I would be offended by anybody comparing me to her. but on the other hand, it’s always weird to be compared to other people, because no two of us are really alike (hopefully!). liz phair rocks, whereas I tend to clippety-clop my way around… the two of us have a different basic sound and attitude, and that’s a beautiful thing. but we have a lot in common as well… it’s like, we’re coming from two different places but arriving at something of a similar, or at least complimentary, vibe. and I will be the first to cop to the fact that I probably have been influenced by her music, as I have with all other musicians I really love. so, yeah, I do get compared to liz phair and that’s okay with me since I like her music a lot. I get compared to patsy cline a lot too, and I’m also a big patsy fan. I don’t think I’m exactly like either one of them, musically, but it’s a compliment just the same.
cf: do you think vocal talent can be learned or is one born with it?
edith: I’m one of those people that believes that anybody who wants to sing, who has any kind of ear for music whatsoever, should be singing right this minute. it’s a fun thing to do, and it’s good for you, like roller skating. the only thing you neeed to be born with is the basic physical tools you need to be able to sing (a voice and ears), and of course it helps to have a brain for it, to be inclined towards understanding music and learning songs, etc. but it’s like anything else… it’s something that you can be naturally good at, but in order to be really excellent, it helps to do the work. you have to exercise your voice just like any other muscle. (ummm, I don’t know anything about this stuff, really, so okay maybe it’s not a muscle!! you know what I mean.) what makes a really great singer great is not just vocal technique though, it goes so much deeper than simple technique. for example, liam hayes from plush has to be one of the greatest singers alive. he has an amazing set of pipes, but more importantly, his voice and the way he uses it has this power to propel me into, like, some kind of blissful trance. it gives me the chills and I don’t know if it does the same thing for everyone, but that’s what it does for me. how a singer connects with his/her audience, that’s more important than anything else.
cf: what are the best websites you’ve looked at lately?
edith: I’m kind of jaded about websites, to tell you the truth… I don’t do that much "surfing" anymore. I spend so much time on e-mail and other things that I just want my information to come straight to my desktop with no middleman. I listen to realaudio stuff a lot. I tune into WFMU (www.wfmu.org) almost every day, and I listen to the news that way too sometimes. the audionet website is pretty cool to scrounge through (www.audionet.com).I’m a longtime yahoo! cheerleader — I use my.yahoo.com for most of my general-purpose searching, and I like to recommend mail.yahoo.com for all my friends who don’t have a computer but would like to have a free e-mail account anyway. the one website I spend the most time at, through no choice of my own, is microsoft’s!! I’m always looking for a driver or plumbing their knowledge base trying to figure out why I’m getting GPFs or something. which is like trying to figure out why the chicken crossed the road.
cf: do you read your press? have you been interviewed much?
edith: I’ve been interviewed quite a bit (at least it seems like a lot for a little nobody like me!) and yeah, I do read the press, I even post it to my website whenever I can. it’s interesting, it’s still a bit of a novelty. I don’t think any one interview or article, or even the whole body of press, has painted an exact picture of me or nothin’. because I don’t think such a thing exists. an interview is like a photograph; it might be a good photograph but it can only capture one moment in time.
cf: if you could become a virtuoso on any instrument instantly, what would you pick?
edith: guitar, for sure. I would love to be a really excellent guitar player but it would take about a hundred years of lessons and woodshedding (and a new set of hands) to be really good at it. but still I play it anyway and do the best I can because it’s the easiest instrument I can use to accompany myself, in most cases.
cf: do you like any contemporary country singers? leann rimes?
edith: not her, really… I mean, I don’t dislike her but her music is not really a significant part of my world. I’d much rather listen to, say, gillian welch or freakwater or tarnation if I wanted to hear country-ish females.
cf: do you miss brooklyn? what do you miss? what don’t you miss?
edith: yes, I miss brooklyn very much, but I miss a version of brooklyn that will never exist for me again and I know it. it’s like any other town. what I miss the most is the group of people that I interacted with at a certain point in my life. conversely, what I don’t miss the most are the folks that I really don’t want to see anymore, like my ex-husband and that whole frickin’ good-squad!! groups of friends are always changing, even when you don’t pick up and move halfway across the country. I lost contact with a lot of people when I moved away from brooklyn, just like I did when I left texas in ’90. it sucks, and you try to stay in touch with the people that matter, but sometimes they just fade off and you never hear from them again. but you meet new friends, and, well, you have to be flexible in life, and adapt ot new situations. I think I do pretty well in that department. and living in chicago has been really good for me. I genuinely love living here just as I loved living in brooklyn while I was there. they’re unique cities, they’re very similar in many ways but also very different, physically and otherwise. right now I think chicago is the only place on earth I would want to live — at this point it just doesn’t seem like I’d ever need to make my home anyplace else. hopefully I will continue to feel that way for many years to come, because I don’t really enjoy the process of uprooting myself and moving from city to city!! I’ve been doing it all my life and, you know, it’s a pain in the ass every time.
cf: is there anyone out there that you think is a cool girl role model?
edith: ummm, this might not be what you were looking for but I think xena the warrior princess is a pretty alright role model; I’ve never been offended by anything I’ve seen her do or say. and, like, buffy the vampire slayer, right? see, I think an artist ought to be judged on their art. xena the warrior princess is supposed to be a role model, but a musician is there to make music, not to show us how we should live our lives, for cryin’ out loud. being a musician is a crazy lifestyle choice anyway… seems like we’re more like examples of how not to live your life if you want to have financial success and whatever. I mean, sure, we have as much of a responsibility as the next guy, I guess, to live the best life that we know how, but more than that? naw. it’s every man for himself, buddy.
cf: are you a feminist? why or why not?
edith: I’m a human-ist. I mean, I’m a feminist inasmuch as I do support anything my sistas wanna do, more power to ‘em!! every single person, male or female, should be able to do whatever it is that blows their skirt up. (heheh.) and I do recognize the problem that we, as women, have when trying to make our own way in this world, which you gotta admit is mostly male-dominated. I’ve had it thrown in my face a few times; I’m a headstrong young lady and people don’t always respect that, so I’ve gotten myself into a few mental battles here and there. but the male/female thing, it hasn’t really been a super big issue for me in life, so I don’t think about it too much.
cf: when will you tour again?
edith: well, I’m heading to france next week for six shows with the dutch harbor crew, but that’s sort of a happy fluke. ohter than that, I don’t know when I’ll be going out. just as soon as I get a car to tour in, which will be real soon. I would say january or february at the latest. hopefully!!
cf: when will your next record come out?
edith: we’re shooting for next spring. it’s not finished yet, but it will be very soon.
cf: when is your birthday? do you belive in astrology? are you superstitious?
edith: my birthday’s august 18th (1964). I’m not really big on astrology. I’m technically a leo, but I have aquarius rising, so I’m supposed to only read the aquarius horoscopes. and I do read them occasionally just for fun, but that shit always seems so general and all-purpose, like anything they tell me could apply to my situation in some way. it’s like a version of pop psychology, something lightweight that people can use to jog their brains a little. I’m really not very much of a superstitious person at all. I’m mildly spiritual, in an inward kinda way, I suppose, but mostly I’m pretty grounded in left-brain reality.
cf: who are your top three modern lady singers?
edith: this is the worst, I hate this job!!! haha… I will at least try, but let me state once again that it’s not the voice that counts but what you do with it. danielle howle blows my ass away, she’s probably my favorite new discovery of the year. lida husik is brilliant as well, in a different way, I love her stuff. and oh god, I can’t think of a third. I’ll say sally timms, for the fuck of it.
cf: do you listen to the radio? what show?
edith: the only radio station I really listen to much at all is WFMU over the ‘net. my favorite show on there has always been laura cantrell’s radio thrift shop. there’s a good live-music show called airplay, here in chicago on northwestern’s station WNUR, but unfortunately I can’t get that station on my crappy stereo tuner.
cf: who would be on your dream bill?
edith: me and elliott smith and bird dog.
cf: how did you end up on drag city? do you find it has a sort of hipster stigma attached to it?
edith: I sent them a letter and a demo tape back in ’94 I think, and they heard it and got back to me some months later… it was just a lot of luck and a little fate maybe. the label does have a hipster image, no doubt, but I don’t see it as a stigma. I don’t think I really fit the hipster mold so I don’t feel like that sort of criticism really applies to me.
cf: tell us a story about rian murphy.
edith: well, one time I was at this mutual friend of ours’ house, sitting there with rian and just shooting the shit. our friend had one of those little breath-measuring devices that asthma patients use to measure their lung power. I decided I wanted to try it out, thinking "hell, I’m a singer, I’ve got leather-lungs, I’ll do great on that test!!" so I blow into the thing and it suddenly makes this grody wet thunk-thunk noise and you know what? I had accidentally blown a big wet lung-cookie into it. (I’m a smoker, okay? I have some congestion, I am sorry.) I looked at rian and he looked at me and I said "did you hear that?" and he says "you mean that GNARLY-ASS LOOGIE you just spit into that thing???" or words to that effect. and I almost died of embarrassment right there on the spot, and our mutual friend was thoroughly disgusted and I had to go into the kitchen and wash the little dealy-bobber off to get the loogie out. I thought I was going to die right there, I almost started crying!! okay, I just realized this is not a funny story about rian — it’s about me, and it’s fucking disgusting! boooooo! oh well. I’m tired, I can’t think of a better one.
cf: are you glad you moved to chicago? why yes or why not? what are your favorite things to do in chicago?
edith: I’m very glad I moved here, I keep telling you that! seeing tons of live music and hanging out with nice people, that’s the best entertainment on earth for me. it’s true I could do that almost anywhere, but chicago’s the best place for me right now.
cf: who do you have a crush on?
edith: right now I really have a huge crush on the guy I’m currently dating, ryan hembrey… can’t get enough of that boy at the moment. and I have a crush on lots of my best friends, like rian murphy and mike krassner, but they’re my best pals on earth and I love ‘em for real, so I guess you can’t really call them crushes. other than that, though, I mean if you’re talking the unattainable ones, the just-for-the-fuck-of-it crushes, well lemme think. liam hayes from plush is probably the sexiest, cutest most heartbreakingly gorgeous guy I think I have ever laid eyes on, and his music just kills me and I am fascinated with him as a person — I would drop everything in a heartbeat just to be able to sit next to that guy and, like, gawk at him. and, well, chicago is just full of sexy guys, they’re all so cute but most of them are already taken. I do have my eye on one of the waiters at the noodle shop across the street. he’s probably taken too, and so am I, but there’s nothing wrong with looking at the scenery, right?